That age has passed when the grass was greener than Victoria’s envy and the swings higher than our unbounded joy at having all of that square patch to ourselves as the sun dripped gold onto our sweaty, dark heads and the sky lived a white era in a single afternoon.
That winding staircase was ours to conquer every summer when we arrived unannounced, like a homecoming. Our homecoming. Children of iron-clad nomads will cling to familiar territory, however small it be. Up those mighty marble slabs we ascended, trailing the teak wood, past the burning black door, out onto a haven of many levels, feet pattering across concrete, hair bold, standing up to the wind it accosted.
Down we descended on her, my wizened old grandmother, the only one I knew. Lips pursed, eyes narrowed, wrinkles quivering, she’d tell us our sodden feet weren’t permitted on her white sheets. The sheets soaked with almond oil that kept the remnants of a once wondrous mane now sparse with age.
Then she’d recount tales of a young woman with a will, grit and pride blazing through India’s toddler-hood. It was the story of her. So unrolled the reel of her life in her head, of her persistent flight in the face of forces larger than her being. Her cotton nighties were fragrant with pan parag, the masala that she loved to chew and doled out to us in private, sneaky moments of childhood, maybe one or two little flecks of that bitter taste on our tongues as she looked at us with a magnificent wink in her eye and told us to quickly hide it before any of our mothers saw it.
Then she’d amble down the hallway into the biggest kitchen i’ve seen till date in any house. it was, perhaps, symbolic of this family’s huge huge huge appetite for good food. Good food is what she and he fought over often, and apparently quite a crucial reason for the separate bedrooms.
And she would amble in and perch on a stool and instruct and bicker and stare down and knead and roll and flatten and fry and move her last muscle to make us besan ke laddoo and achaar, big tins full for consumption, others to take away a piece of her home. And we would gorge and then treat her, in secret, to pizzas and she’d barter her stories for a little good faluda kulfi from Kumars or pastries from Sunrise and so we would chat late into the night, munching and musing, munching and musing.
And every evening, out we’d fly out into the garden or to Rajpur road or to Race Course, for a lark, to be treated by the mamas and mausis to some ice cream, dinner, clothes, books, stationery or just a drive halfway up to Mussourie, on beautiful chilly evenings, with so many manyyy stars and good old Hindi music for company, because that was all mama would allow.
She’d be sitting at home, alone, for she was invalidated by her obesity and osteoporosis and diabetes that had eaten into her bones and skin but her heart remained strong. She felt left out and her strong heart turned bitter. When we’d come back, sneaking in, giggling like little rascals, she’d display her angst. And then we’d all descend on her again, in her little room, and shower her with anecdotes and laughter and little tid-bits and the miffed ir would soon dissolve and she’d be back to her caustic jibes at all of us.
And now she’s laid to rest and the last of those days are gone. She got worse and worse and then she was getting better. She’d shrivelled up, and she’d got herself a rockstar hair makeover. And a brilliant pahaadi tan. And we all breathed a sigh of relief and thought, she’s around for a bit, let us relax. And then one terrible Monday a month ago, she just ups and leaves.
Much as I thought it didn’t matter that much – she’d lived a fill life, this had to happen etc. – the sight of her lying there on ice shred my heart. Over and over again. She was the only grandma I had.
I wish I’d missed her this much in April.